The Baltimore Orioles said hello to the Chicago White Sox, the team they like the least, with seven runs in the first inning on Thursday. They said goodbye today with nine runs in the fourth inning of an 11-3 romp to complete a four-game sweep.
The Orioles seldom fight anybody. Except the White Sox, with whom they had a charge-the-mound, bench-clearing, three-ejection brawl Saturday, the first Memorial Stadium fight since 1976. Maybe the Orioles, who hadn't swept a four-game series since last August, play better when they're mad.
With this laugher, the somewhat rejuvenated Orioles completed an 8-3 homestand and trail the Boston Red Sox by 4 1/2 games. The deficit was 10 at the all-star break.
This muggy afternoon was full of fine foolishness for Orioles followers. Rookie Jim Traber, who is in some magic zone of his own, poked a wind-aided, first-row, opposite-field grand slam home run inside the left field foul pole. His 315-foot pop fly -- on a defensive punch swing at an outside 1-2 pitch -- gave him 13 RBI and five homers in 32 at-bats since he was called up to replace disabled Eddie Murray.
"Guess I'm just living right," said Traber. "I didn't really get it."
"Keep it in on him and he won't hurt you," growled Chicago Manager Jim Fregosi.
Just as heartening to the Orioles was the poised, relaxed work of their most worrisome pitcher, Scott McGregor. After winning one of his previous 10 starts (and allowing 11 runs in 3 2/3 innings in his last three), McGregor worked six shutout innings before being roughed for two runs in the seventh. He may have saved his job in the rotation.
Said McGregor: "Guys tell me, 'Your fastball, curve and change-up are too close to the same speed.' I say, 'No kidding. I'm getting killed. You think I don't know that?'
"I could go out right-handed and do better than the last three times. I said to myself, 'I can't be that bad.' I couldn't have thrown that many long hits if I'd tried."
Desperate for a solution, McGregor has been throwing every day, often working 10 minutes in batting practice. "I'm probably going to have to throw almost every day for the rest of my career," he said.
If McGregor was relieved, Rick Dempsey felt exonerated. The feisty catcher started Saturday's melee by tackling Gene Nelson after being hit by a curve. This day, he got a crucial RBI double off Richard Dotson that gave the Orioles a 3-0 lead and ignited their most productive inning this season. Juan Bonilla followed with a two-run single, and the romp was on.
Even Cal Ripken (three hits) had the satisfaction of scorching a liner between Dotson's knees into center. It was Dotson and Ripken who began this bad blood in the 1983 playoffs with knockdown-pitch debates. Since then, Ripken has 36 RBI and 13 homers in 36 games against Chicago.
Since August 1983, the Orioles are 29-13 against Chicago, their best mark against anyone.
It was a matter of time before Baltimore knocked out Dotson (7-11), whose ERA now is over 6.00. A Bonilla single and Fred Lynn's double -- a misplayed liner by Harold Baines -- provided a first-inning run. Lynn jammed his right shoulder getting thrown out at third and left the game in the fourth with the score 2-0.
In Baltimore's season of exasperations and injuries, the nine-run shenanigans were an interlude of joy. Sheets and O'Malley dumped two dying-quail bloops to center and left. "Jam shorts," said Fregosi.
After Shelby struck out, Dempsey hooked his ground-rule double to left center off a low-and-away sinker. Bonilla, eight for 16 in this series, continued his exuberant play, lining a two-run single to center.
Dotson walked Lee Lacy, and reliever Bill Dawley walked Juan Beniquez. After Ripken fanned, Traber broke the White Sox' hearts again. Fast enough to steal 11 bases in Class AAA, Traber took such a slow home-run trot that all three teammates were waiting at home by the time he reached second base.
Shelby added the finishing touch, rocking a two-run double.
A curious thing happened in the late innings. The White Sox, in a seven-game losing streak, started hitting. Just in time, the Orioles hope, for Boston's visit to Chicago Monday. Whether the White Sox can help the Orioles in their pursuit of the Red Sox is uncertain.
But, if it matters, the team from Chicago is certainly mad enough.